JONESBORO — The day after the Clayton News Daily revealed documents that seem to connect former Sheriff Victor Hill to the crimes for which he has been indicted, his defense attorney disputed the evidence and continued to proclaim Hill’s innocence.
The Clayton News Daily reviewed bank statements and other documents Tuesday that make a case against Hill. Among other charges, Hill is accused of stealing county vehicles issued to him as sheriff to take out-of-state vacations and using county funds to pay for expenses.
But Jonesboro defense attorney Steve Frey said appearances can be deceiving.
“We believe the evidence will show he was using his exclusive automobile at all times while performing his duties as sheriff,” said Frey. “The only money spent was for gassing the vehicle and other sheriff-related duties, i.e., the computer.”
Frey said Hill returned the computer on his last day in office, Dec. 31, 2008.
Documents show Hill used a county debit card to reserve a unit at Blue Ridge Cabins in Helen, Ga. At check-in, he upgraded the unit to a premium suite and paid the difference in cash, according to the paperwork. Frey said the fact that the charge remained on the county’s bank statement was a mistake.
“The Blue Ridge Cabin rental, we believe that is an accounting error,” he said. “The initial charge for reserving the cabin stayed on that card even though he paid in cash at check-in.”
Frey said Hill never used county funds for any other items related to his vacations.
“I firmly believe there is absolutely no evidence of his having spent money with respect to his mini-vacations, unequivocally, no county money spent on lodging, meals, entertaining or anything personal,” he said. “Unless the state is holding out on me on discovery, I firmly believe that.”
Hill is also accused of converting campaign funds to his personal use by funneling $15,000 through the account of one of his then-girlfriends, Naomi Nash. Hill claimed Nash was his campaign manager and the money was her salary. Documents reviewed by this newspaper show a copy of a check written to Nash and signed by Hill, Nash’s bank statement showing the deposit and later withdrawals. Nash reportedly told investigators she gave all but about $1,000 to Hill for his personal use.
Frey said the transaction is easily explained.
“We believe the evidence will show that Naomi Nash was in fact his campaign manager and she was paid for work performed,” he said. “The circumstances under which she chose to spend the money, we don’t have any explanation for that.”
Hill is also accused of taking a $2,000 contribution and converting it into his personal account last summer. Bank records show he would have had about $28 in the bank in July had he not allegedly deposited that $2,000, and would have eventually been overdrawn on that account.
Frey said Hill did not convert those funds for his personal use.
“That did not happen,” he said. “That is patently untrue.”
Documents also allege that Hill used deputies on the clock and other county assets for two campaign fund raisers in 2007 — a bike event and a golf tournament. According to the Georgia Ethics Commission, Hill paid a $2,000 civil penalty after admitting to the complaint.
But Frey said Hill disciplined at least one deputy for campaigning for him on county time.
“We want to know who these deputies were who worked on the clock for him campaigning,” he said. “When he knew about them doing it, he disciplined them.”
Hill has said previously he believes the prosecution is politically-driven and a way to keep him from returning to office. Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson recused herself and her office from the case and instead appointed a special prosecutor, Layla Zon, to oversee the proceedings.
If Hill wins the run-off Aug. 21 and is convicted on the felonies, he faces years in prison. The governor will have to appoint an interim sheriff and a special election will likely be set to elect someone to serve out Hill’s unexpired term. There is no trial date set but Frey and Hill are expected in court Sept. 10 to present motions.
“After that depends on what happens in the run-off,” said Frey. “If he wins, we’ll need to quickly resolve this.”